Carlson School of Management News

Alumnus Michael Barr Brings Business Foundation to Creative Startup

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Barr175x250.jpgAlumnus Michael Barr, '98 BSB, found a job while watching TV. It was during a fateful episode of Shark Tank that he noticed the charismatic founder of Freaker USA, a start-up which makes knit beverage insulators.

An accidental invention
Zach Crain devised the Freaker, a one-size-fits-all drink insulator, in Wilmington, N.C. When the then-barista joined a gathering of customers at a knitting party, he set out to knit a beer koozie. Crain quickly became frustrated by the task, but liked the concept of a knit drink insulator that kept beverages cold and hands dry.

Excited by the immediate appeal of the Freaker, Crain patented the design, secured manufacturing at a local hosiery plant, and raised funds on Kickstarter to finance a first round of orders. In October, 2012, he appeared on Shark Tank. It was then Barr, who worked as an independent sales representative, took notice of the opportunity and reached out. Barr took on the startup as a client and began shopping the product to major retailers.

Building a strong foundation
When the company's growth began to outpace the team's competencies, Freaker USA appointed Barr to president and COO. He performed fundamental business tasks the creative founder was less than inclined to tackle including fortifying the supply chain, managing risk, and connecting with large retailers.

"Freaker is made up of very creative people, with amazing fun ideas," says Barr. "I'm the boring one. I do everything that they don't want to spend their time thinking about. That's what's so fun about business, everyone serves their purpose and you need all those different people."

Merging creativity with business savvy
Grounded by the business foundation Barr brought to the startup, Freaker USA has enjoyed tremendous growth. Since 2011, sales have grown four-fold annually. Available in dozens of designs, Freakers are now sold at Target, Tilly's, Bloomingdales, QVC, Herberger's, Kowalski's, Nordstrom, and more.

Where he once negotiated orders between electronics manufacturers and major retailers, Barr now works alongside Crain on an old film set. The Freaker USA office is the former Club Tric set from teen drama One Tree Hill.

"That's a perfect example of what makes Freaker unique. Everything that happens is crazy, ridiculous and fun, and somehow it all comes together to make a business," he says.

Inspiring passionate students
Barr, who once planned a career in law, is grateful to the Carlson School professors who inspired him to follow his passion.

"I had a finance professor at Carlson that was so passionate about what he did. I think one of the takeaways from those professors is that you have to love what you do," he says.

Photos courtesy Justin Mitchener, Freaker USA

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